By Kirsty Topping
A NATIONWIDE search has been launched to find a new mate for a seal who’s former partner was swept away during a storm.
Laurel, a common or harbour seal, spent nearly 20 years with partner Hardy at St Andrews Aquarium until he vanished last March.
Now staff are hoping they can find a new companion who shares the lonely seal’s love of swimming and seafood.
However aquarium staff have already hit a snag in the search for love – they can no longer take seals from the wild as they are an endangered species and there is no breeding programme in the UK for sea mammals.
Instead they have to pin their hopes on a baby being born in captivity – a rare event.
Both Laurel and Hardy were brought to the centre after being rescued from the wild, in Laurel’s case because he mother had fallen ill.
Hardy disappeared after severe storms hit the area last spring.
Horrified staff watched as waves lashed the animals’ outdoor pool before they suddenly realised the male seal was nowhere to be seen.
The animal had not been seen since and Laurel has become increasingly withdrawn, despite staff attempting to cheer her up with lots of attention.
Manager John Mace said:
“Laurel and Hardy were very good friends. They came to us as pups and had been together a long time. Together they were one of our main attractions.
“The storm which took Hardy was a freak, to say the least. it damaged a lot of St Andrews and even the sand dunes took a hammering.
“We were watching Laurel and Hardy in their pool but couldn’t go out to them because of the danger from debris – bits of wood the size of cars were flying through the air.
“The waves were coming again and again over the the aquarium wall and engulfing the seals’ pool.
“We knew almost immediately that Hardy was gone. “
Mr Mace added:
“Afterwards there was a huge search but we never managed to find him.
“We are now focusing on trying to find Laurel a new companion. It’s not easy, as you can no longer grab one from the beach as you used to in the old days. Today aquariums rely on being given pups which are born in captivity.’We are hoping that by spreading the word somebody will get in touch. It would be nice to have a happy ending. “
Common seals are found throughout the northern hemisphere and there are though to be around 6 million globally. The females are slightly smaller than the males.
Female common seals live for up to 35 years, while males live to around 25. Females generally bear one pup at a time and cares for them alone.
Babies are born anywhere between February and July. Pups are born on land, weighing about 16kg but are capable of swimming and diving within a few hours of birth.
They suckle for a period of between three and four weeks, during which they can more than double their birth weight.